Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Brain Needs to “Wander and Wonder”
(Part 2)

Visual spatial thinking is facilitated most readily through the development of art, imagination, and exploration. Art and visual imagery have been key contributors to the human experience considerably longer than the printed word has. Nearly 2.5 million years ago, hand tools surfaced as an integral part of the daily life for primitive mankind.

The first evidence of prehistoric art forms did not appear until roughly 80,000 years ago.

There is an abundance of signs that the earliest art forms were “manuports.” These naturally-formed or man-made portable artifacts were valued for having an appearance that was similar to any well-known object, particular those that were personally important or appealing. These visually attractive objects were saved and carried about, due to their striking likeness to a fertile woman (e.g., the Venus of Wilendorf), a horse or a bison.

A massive cognitive leap took place with the introduction of tools, language, art, and large-groups living. Coincidentally, a threefold increase in hominid braincase also occurred during this same time period. Each of these new human competencies appears to have significantly impacted the fast-paced evolution of the others. The milestones highlighting man’s evolution include the rapid and sudden advances in human intelligence.
The survival imperatives of 2 million years ago dictated that our ancestors cultivate a keen ability to distinguish a potential opportunity from an impending danger, which meant developing visual memory systems coupled with an awareness of the broad categories that could be used to classify objects in the environment. Upon encountering an object or animal, (1) it could be an animal or object that clearly falls into a particular category, (2) it could concurrently enjoy membership in more than one category, and (3) at first glance, its initial identification could be in error. Being cognizant of the three possibilities prompted the evolution of flexibility in one’s responses, which contributed to our ancestors’ survival.

Our startled reaction to a snake-like vine on the walkway has the precautionary benefit of alerting us to a potentially fatal encounter with a poisonous reptile. In 1915, Edgar Rubin gave the above “is-it-a-face-or-is-it-a-vase?” conundrum a permanent place in visual perception research. Mother Nature can be most unforgiving allowing us only one life-ending miscalculation of this type. Cases of fortuitous multiple identifications of this sort determined if one lived to see another day, and reveals how the mind developed a propensity to look for glaringly conspicuous characteristics in objects, which allows us to place them into one category or another.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Schools Must Allow More Time for the Brain to
Wander and Wonder”

(Part 1)

Approximately 30% of our waking hours are devoted to time where our minds make a sudden shift from "concentrate" to “wander and wonder."

Scientists have estimated that 99.99% of the species that have ever lived on planet Earth have gone extinct. An extensive list of natural causes posed insurmountable environmental hazards, leading to their demise. Human beings, on the other hand, not only learned how to solve problems, but we became the only animal on the planet that looks for problems, that invents “practice problems” to solve (imaginary problems in a carefully controlled environment called “school”), and even anticipated means by which we can solve future problems.

With an ability to think with high degrees of flexibility (“imagine”) and with the development of an increasingly robust repertoire of problem-solving strategies, human beings evolved as the only species that could run away from a problem, swim away from a problem, climb away from a problem, talk our way out of a problem, and design solutions to our problems. Mastering a broad range of possible solutions promoted the survival of our species. What, one might ask, constitutes the most effective educational path to creativity, inventiveness and innovation?

Our current global challenges require that we develop well-trained creative minds that will craft novel strategies and innovative solutions to those problems and challenges. Spawning new inventions to sustain the worldwide economies translates into developing fine-tuned young minds from Kindergarten through graduate school.

We can facilitate visual spatial thinking, as well as general learning, by guiding the creative brain process of making neural connections. As young learners build on their experiences, the brain moves easiest from simple concrete experiences to increasingly more complex levels of abstractions and abstract thinking.